Empowerment – You have the right to be assertive.

What this series is about.

Empowerment is a word that covers many meanings. It is used in different contexts but today I’ll focus on empowerment within mental health and recovery. When I was confronted  with mental illness in my life, it felt like depression took everything down in one fell swoop. I’m not saying that it was there all of the sudden but the effects were pretty devastating. Becoming empowered plays an important role in rehabilitation. It is the process where you discover yourself behind the mask of being an ill person. You realize that every mental challenge presents itself different within the community. Step by step I’m finding the pieces of ‘me’ again and I try to compose them into a significant ‘whole’ being. Different as I used to be but still me. Does that sound confusing to you? It can be for me too. By walking you through the different key factors of becoming empowered as described by J. Chamberlin I hope I can shed some light on the topic.

Chamberlin and participants decided early in their discussions that empowerment was a complex, multidimensional concept, and that it described a process rather than an event. Therefore, you don’t need to display every quality on the list (for the full list see further readings below) in order to be considered empowered. It is important to know that a working definition is used, precisely to spark further discussion.


Or ‘the ability to clearly state one’s wishes and to stand up for oneself’. This starts in my opinion with defining your own boundaries, respecting boundaries of others and having somewhat a view on your own emotions, passions and capabilities. What is a pass and what definitely isn’t one? How to put down your foot and how to express your wishes? When mental illness (depression in my case) comes into play, you can be easily overwhelmed by your emotions, feelings of emptiness and tiredness. This makes it quite the challenge to define boundaries and sometimes putting them down is just too much to ask for. Along the way I learned some coping skills. I needed to learn how to say ‘no’ in a polite but firm way. I had the need to explain away and to provide enough excuses but I’ve learned that a ‘no’ can be just that. ‘No’.

Where I couldn’t state that before with so much ease I’ve finally found a use for my tiredness. It helps me navigate my energy. When I’m tired I just can’t do this or that small thing on top of my daily things. Having a better view on what my possibilities are at the moment I feel I have a fair base line to be assertive enough to protect my body and mind. Depression told me that it is ok not to do things or to let them go. I feel I can stand up for myself despite what I ‘should’ be doing. While this is all nicely put into words on your screen, it takes me a daily effort to keep showing up for me in the right fashion. Once my goals are more clear, it is much easier to announce my boundaries to the world.

End of story? No. A special problem presented itself in therapy. During the pandemic therapy was given online. I skipped the first session, knowing that I would benefit more from a real life consult. When the lockdown wasn’t lifted very quick, I gave Whatsapp and my therapist a go. It fell flat for me, I didn’t feel a connection and by the second time I was disappointed. When the therapist told me in the third online session that my thoughts were merely my projections and that I needed to get dressed every day, I was ready to quit. But I didn’t. I feel that my therapist is bored with me and that she is giving up or maybe she had just a bad day. The thing is that I need to stand up for myself but that I’m worried that I will be viewed as a difficult client or maybe I will get an additional diagnosis of some personality disorder. What is that fine line between being assertive and been viewed as ‘untreatable’,  ‘defiant’, ‘too damaged’ or just plain ‘difficult’?

Did you experience difficulties with assertiveness? Did you ever get the idea that having mental issues made you less able to express your views or boundaries? Have you ever been told that you use your mental illness as an excuse and was that the case or was it merely someone who didn’t understood what you were going through? Please comment if you like to and I’m looking forward to read your opinions, thoughts and questions.

Resources, notes and further reading.

[1] Chamberlin, J. (1995). A working definition of empowerment.

post: Empowerment, the importance of decision making.

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20 thoughts on “Empowerment – You have the right to be assertive.

  1. No mine ever told me that I use my mental illness as an excuse, but I haven’t always been able to assert myself. Mainly because I didn’t know that how others were treating me was just plain wrong. Once I began learning this, I’ve had quite a bit less time for that particular kind of drama.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article (as always 🙂 )

    Being assertive can sometimes be very difficult. I have been working as a corporate trainer for the past few years and I do a lot of sessions on how to be assertive and over the years I have managed to learn it but it was very difficult at the beginning – to be honest, I used to be the type of person who was preaching water and drinking wine if you see what I mean.

    But then , I have learnt the perfect way to be assertive which in my case was learning how to say “no” in various different, indirect ways – most of these ways are pretty understandable such as proposing an alternative instead of something that I do not feel comfortable doing or a “reflecting” no by telling the person why I cannot do something for them and adding the word “no” at the end of my reasoning 😀 And well, I know sometimes it might be easier to just say “no” in a very straightforward way but that’s just…totally conflicting with my personality/cultural background 😀 – so in my case it’s already a huge progress that I am able to refuse things in my own, overly sophisticated way.

    Thanks for sharing this post! 🙂



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  3. I’ve always been reasonably assertive. With depression, I’ve always been assertive around my treatment, although that’s as much my inner stubborn moose as anything. Aside from that, though, as I have less and less mental energy, I’ve started using avoidance a lot more rather than actually saying no.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I recognize that for the 100%. When you *know* you need to say ‘no’ but you just can’t because it’s too much. I fall into that trap way to many times.
      Assertiveness takes energy too, it takes energy to stand your ground.
      To be stubborn can help to but then I end up being very ‘assertive’ and I just say/shout ‘no’ without any explanation which is of course, also not that socially acceptable. 🙄
      I remember many remarks at work that I needed to be more direct or to stand my ground; they thought I couldn’t do that. But I can, I have the skills but no power to show them.
      Thank you for this interesting comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw this kind-of in reverse in the banks – no shortage of assertiveness there! In fact, the difficulty was determining whether it was misplaced or not. But certainly, a lot up “success” is just actually telling people that you are successful.

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  5. For me, I’m not sure that I lacked assertiveness, I think I just didn’t like saying ‘no’ and upsetting people because then they wouldn’t like me.

    I soon realised that when I started saying ‘no’ I didn’t have so many friends. But you know what, I’m glad not to have all these people/hangers-on/users, etc in my life. I wasted too much energy on them and where were they when I needed them? Now I don’t care if they ever liked me or not. lol.

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  6. Finding the balance with assertiveness is tricky, but from what I read here, you do not sound like a difficult patient. As you say, fatigue can teach us to finally say “no” instead of taking on more than we can handle because refusing just feels to intimidating. Saying “no” creates walls, and when we are hurting and need space to heal, those walls are a vital fortress. And in this case, you aren’t necessarily building a wall, just asking someone to work with you. I’d say that’s a healthy expression of assertiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes No means No..👍🏻😊yes we do have the right to be assertive.. powerful message 💪👍🏻..recently I to did a post on the same ..but This one really standout 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

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